Saturday, 31 December 2011

Interview with LeeSun for This Is Not a Scene magazine

LeeSun - Prime

1. As I said in my review, the mix of the album allows your vocals to come across as being very intimate, who do you think have been your major influences in your singing style?
Suzanne Vega was the first singer I heard who made me think, "I love what she's doing. I would love to do that." When I started listening to pop music, I was mainly drawn to music that was "pretty" sounding and calming. It was probably an escape of sorts. I felt a lot of angst back then. Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, and Anita O'Day were also big influences.
2. Many of the songs appear to be infused with a deep spirituality, is this significant to you as a singer/songwriter?
Yes, definitely! As far back as I can remember, faith and spirituality have been profoundly important to me as a person. I have memories of being 3 or 4 years old and conversing with God. That probably sounds a bit crazy, and makes me seem much weirder than I am! I'm not actually very weird at all ... I think.
3. There is genuinely no gimmick to entice the potential listener to the album, and the songs themselves display a great deal of honesty and integrity. Do you feel that is important to your craft?
Thanks John, that is such a huge compliment, and it means so much to me! I write for a lot of reasons, like self-expression, self-discovery, and connecting with other people. I sometimes worry about the first two reasons. I wonder if what I do is just another form of self indulgence, and wonder if I should be more concerned with the third reason. But I've always thought that if I just do what I do as best as I can, and not concern myself with enticing people to my music, then sooner or later, something I write will connect with some people, somewhere. And that makes it all worthwhile!
I emailed Ahava's Song to Jane Siberry and she told me that I needed to work on being more honest with my singing, and move past a certain "little girlishness" that she thought I was using to hide behind. I was surprised by that, and I still wonder what it is that she heard, and if it's something I can or should work on. Maybe some day I'll understand what she meant, but for now I have no idea!
4. “The Humming Song” is an absolute favourite of mine from the album; can you tell us a little bit more of what that song is about?
One summer when I was a music student, I was living in a shared house. It was evening. All my housemates were out. So I sat down at the piano and tried to work out a chord progression that had been running through my head. I did eventually work it out, and realised it was a Beatles song. So that was a bit disappointing, especially since it was a really nice progression. But a bit like peeling away layers, once that progression was out of my head, another tune started running through my head. So I sat there trying to make out the words and the tune, and I wrote down what I heard, one bit at a time. And when the tune ended that was the Humming Tune. The words didn't make complete sense to me, and there was a lot of mixed up imagery in it which bothered me a bit. I usually like my lyrics to be tidy.
Anyway, to answer your question, the song is about examining your life to see if you're doing what really matters to you, and if the things that matter to you are really things that will fulfil you, long-term. I probably wrote that song out of a need to challenge people. I love doing that! But sneakily. I like to give people scary challenges without scaring them too much. You know, in an empowering sort of way.
5. There are so many styles of music integrated into your songs, and that is partly what gives them their appeal. Who, if anyone, do you feel is your target audience?
Most of the songs on Prime were written when I was in my early twenties. When I wrote the tunes I just assumed my target audience would be similar to me. But I'm still singing those songs and I'm in my thirties now. I still think that my target audience is probably made up of people who are quite similar to me, but perhaps that has more to do with the way people think and experiences they're going through, than their age?
6. Of all the new musical talent that is around at the moment, do you have any personal recommendations?
Yes, so many! Too many to list here, so I'll just say a few. I adore Laura J Martin, who kindly added a flute part to "There's a Strangeness in Me" on my album. She is absolutely riveting, live. I also love Hannah-Rei who's working on an album now. I think it's going to be a beautiful album. And Steph Stephenson has such a sweet singing voice and writes almost painfully honestly. I always look forward to hearing her releases on Youtube. And in a completely different vein, there's "Jack Is ..." creating some really exciting music. They're three sixteen year old Leeds students. The Forlorn Hope with Anna Elias (formerly of Bodixa) is very beautiful. Captain Wilberforce is lovely music to kick back to. Kodo and Seamless are producers I've worked with, and I love what they do as well. And that's just to name a few! And must also give a shout out to Emma Shaheen, Icon Tunes, Strawberry Vale, Hoshal Patrick, Love of the Brave, Natasha Williams, and Richard Lamb. And if Benny Smith who did all the photos for my album puts out an album, I'd definitely buy it and recommend it! And last but not least, would definitely recommend that anyone who hasn't seen Jon Gomm live, go see him. He's not really a "new" artist, but he doesn't have as wide an audience as he deserves, though it's ever growing.
There's so much truly exciting and talented new musical talent around at the moment, and I think it's so important for people to find artists who really excite and inspire them, and to support them by telling others about them or buying their music or even just dropping them a line from time to time or commenting on their youtube channels. I've been trying to get my music out for a long time, and it can be a very hard slog indeed.
7. Your Blog “What Would LeeSun Do” makes me smile, what gave you the idea to come up with that?
It's an allusion to the Christian motto "What Would Jesus Do". I partly wanted to provoke people one of my favourite pastimes and I needed an apt description for the blog which is supposed to be a free space for people to ask me anything they like. I confess I've let the blog lapse as there were so few visitors. But I'll look into posting on it again in the new year, since you've enjoyed it! That's encouraging to hear.
8. As an artist trying to get people to listen to your music, how important do you think social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are?
That's a good question. To be honest, I don't really know! I've got both a Twitter which I don't use much yet and a Facebook for my music, mainly because I know a lot of people use those sites, and I'd like to be findable if anyone wants to find me. But people have to hear about me from somewhere else, in order to look for me on those sites! So I need to work on that, for example, by gigging more or trying to get more radio play or posting more things on Youtube.
I think all of the sites can potentially play an important role in getting one's music out, so it's good to try to at least have a presence on all of them. And ultimately, to grow a reliable fanbase, one has to work towards building a mailing list, and sending out exciting updates from time to time. I think that's the most important role of the social networking sites: providing an point of entry for people who will eventually sign up to your mailing list.
9. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Yes! I'm working on a stripped down acoustic album with all new songs. Each song will be arranged for just piano and vocals, or guitar and vocals. I have a background in classical piano, and I'd really like to put it to use by writing more beautiful and distinctive piano arrangements for my songs.
10. Finally, would you still be interested in pursuing a career in psychotherapy?
Definitely! It would take 6 years to get qualified, studying part-time, and I'm seriously thinking about applying for 2012.
Thanks John for this interview. It's truly been a pleasure!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Skin Like Iron/Nails Split 7" EP review for Alternative Matter

An absolute treat for the devotee of melodic yet satisfyingly aggressive hardcore, this 7” split EP between California’s Nails and San Francisco’s Skin Like Iron delivers both over its’ four tracks. Of the two bands, Nails appear to be evidently the more devastating in their approach, and their two tracks “Annihilation” and “Cry Wolf” leave the listener overwhelmed following the landslide of violence. Nails already have one full length release under their belt on Southern Lord and are apparently working on a follow up in the first part of 2012. None the less effective, but adopting a more sedate verse/chorus approach, the two offerings from Skin Like Iron, are built up from multiple temp changes and layers of song structure that do not assault the listener in the same way as their colleagues. Skin Like Iron have a number of releases to investigate on React and Six Feet Under records. The EP itself, it seems, is limited to 1000 vinyl pressings only, and should be sought out by anyone interested in where hardcore music could be careering into in 2012. The two bands come at the EP from different angles but together achieve an ear blistering whole.

Septic Mind – The True Call review for Alternative Matter

This is the second album from Russian based Septic Mind, and from the opening swathes of isolation and despair the listener appreciates what is in store for the duration. Consisting of three long tracks “The True Call”, “Doomed to Sin” and “Planet is Sick” each, in their own way, develop throughout the duration at a dinosaur pace. “The True Call” begins in a desolate landscape, encased in fog and awaiting the arrival of the vocal. When the vocal arrives it is in the low, bleak growl that is familiar to most devotees of this style of playing. Around 10 minutes into the track the mood is lifted slightly as further instrumentation add new levels to the landscape, guitars weave in and out of the smoke and voices from above add to the tone.  Eventually the elements that have been hinted at so far coalesce and round the piece off with an unwieldy riff and an austere spirit. “Doomed to Sin” begins altogether more optimistically, but has the familiar tone lurking in the background, and gradually over the next 10 minutes decelerates into tectonic plates of sound grating against each other as guitars cry mournfully in the expanse. The shortest track “Planet is Sick” at 14 minutes is by some way the more complex of the three pieces and draws the listener in with its’ contemplative guitar motif and the sinister progression throughout. This track, more than the others, has the advantage of being the most easily accessible and has a more uplifting feel, if that word could be applied to music of this nature. By the culmination the listener has been trampled down, and is left feeling both exhilarated and overwhelmed with passion.
Overall “The True Call” leaves the willing observer feeling melancholic and hungry for more which takes skill and courage to attempt and pull off effectively. The length of the tracks that make up the album permit them time to expand organically, and there is an essence throughout that each piece is emerging as we listen. Amongst the many albums that are attempting to inspire doom and despondency, Septic Mind have managed to do so with “The True Call”, and to also  inspire the listener to take notice of what is on offer and not to dismiss as mere soundtrack.

Top 15 albums of 2011

In no particular order:

Battles – Gloss Drop

Hollie Cook – Hollie Cook

Matt Stevens – Relic

Steve Wilson - Grace for Drowning

Keith Jarrett – Rio

Decapitated – Carnival is Forever

Johann Johannsson – The Miners’ Hymns

Ju Ju – In Trance

Splashgirl – Pressure

The Unthanks – Last

Primus – Green Naugahyde

Matt Berry – Witchazel

Penguin Cafe – A Matter of Life

Opeth – Heritage

Mike Patton – The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Occupy Leeds and #occupycarols

On 20th December 2011 Occupy Leeds held an event in Leeds City Square that helped win the support of many passing by and those with their eye on the global “Occupy” campaign. Along with members of the Red Ladder Theatre Company, members of the band Chumbawamba and comedian, DJ and author Phill Jupitus, supporters of the campaign met and performed a Christmas carol service with a difference outside the camp itself on City Square. As George McKay explains, “one way in which cultures of resistance define themselves against the culture of the majority is through the construction of their own zones, their own spaces.” [i] To the observer on this particular occasion, the space on City Square was, indeed, theirs.
The “Occupy” campaign, which is not only represented in Leeds but has affiliates around the world, exists to facilitate local discussion around issues of freedom of information, an end to global conflict in the quest for oil and a return to the appreciation of the earth in all its natural beauty. Occupy Leeds as a group themselves feel that the current political system is undemocratic and unjust and that an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources is unsustainable. In fairness the group are not professing to have a simple answer, but are passionate about facilitating discussion with a view to change. They themselves admit that they are not affiliated to any political party and are made up of “every day people from different backgrounds with similar concerns, values”.
The Red Ladder Theatre Company began life in London in 1968, and in its own words are rooted in the radical socialist theatre movement “agitprop”, which, also informed by feminist theatre, has helped to shape its identity today. The company moved to Leeds in the 1970’s and has gradually changed its structure from that of a cooperative to one that is hierarchical and now targets work for youth audiences.
The carol concert itself comprised many well known, traditional carols that were given a twist pertinent to the movement it was supporting and promoting.

 Sung to the tune of Jingle Bells
Jingle bills. Jingle coins.
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to shop,
while freedom slips away.

Jingle bills. Jingle coins.
Jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to shop,
While justice is delayed.

Dashing through the mall
With credit cards in play
Into debt we go
Laughing all the way

Bells on cashbox rings
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to shop for bling
While we lose all our rights.

Jingle Bells, Stock Exchange smells
They took our jobs away!
Profits first while people thirst
For justice every day!

Jingle Bells, fill the cells
Of prisons with the rich!
Who practice greed while those in need
Get told that life's a bitch!

Sung to the tune of “Away in a Manger”
By Fern Capella
Away In Our Hearts

Away in our hearts
lives a place we all know
where children are cherished
and healthy things grow
where everyone’s equal
and all have a home
a place full of love, grace, compassion and hope.

A new day is coming for the Earth that we love
that old way is dying and shrivelling up
the world that we make now is up to all of us
let’s let every day be the day of the dove.

Peace is our vision and love is in our hearts
we don’t know what will happen but we know this is the start
our children deserve laughter, imagination and art
Take my hand in this new world
and let’s all do our part.

... and for a rousing finale...

Sung to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas
12 Days of Tax Avoidance by Anti-cuts Leeds

On the first day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
One million hospital beds

On the second day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Two thousand fire engines,

On the third day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Thirty thousand degrees

On the fourth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Four thousand playgrounds

On the fifth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Five thousand homes

On the sixth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Six thousand head teachers

On the seventh day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Seven pints of beer each

On the eighth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Eight ‘Children in Needs’

On the ninth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Nine sports centres

On the tenth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Ten thousand libraries

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Eleven thousand jobs

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
Corporate tax could buy
Twelve thousand nurses

[i] McKay, G (1996)  Senseless Acts of Beauty , London, Verso.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Leonardo Rosado – Mute Words review for Alternative Matter

Music often considered “drone” or “ambient” can frequently inspire a sensation of trepidation and doubt from the average listener with it connotations in new age, other worldly and frankly tiresome background noise. Leonardo Rosado, who is also known for his work with the Feedbackloop label, has created an off shoot to their ambient and experimental catalogue in Heart and Soul, which has been created primarily for poetry and music releases. “Mute Words” is the first release from this new project, and if further releases are up to this standard, then the label will surely be one to keep an eye on for innovation, and an example to those who may be afraid to immerse themselves in, or be troubled by, “ambient” music.
The music on “Mute Words” although recognisable by the layers of drone and atonal passages which weave a thread throughout, are given further levels of sensitivity with intimate droplets of found sounds, field recordings and barely perceptible piano passages. To attach further levels of awareness, three of the eight passages feature vocal contributions which, far from distracting the listener, give the sense that these pieces are organic in origin and add humanity and tenderness.
The voices of Barbara de Dominicis on “How Inbetween Became To Be” and Alicia Merz on “Out Of Pure Kindness” are somehow, however, heard as further sounds added to the already luscious landscape, and are almost voices lost in the ether, whilst “The Study of Doubt” which features the poetry of Michelle Seaman is delivered in a rather more deadpan fashion which allies itself more to the electronic personality of the surrounding sounds. The margin between the words themselves and the sounds that permeate behind them is gossamer thin and the fact that this membrane is never broken is testament to the skill involved in creating it. As a piece of work in its own right, “Mute Words” can be enjoyed from beginning to end, and never is there a sense that there are passages incorporated that may be considered extraneous..........

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Birds of Passage – Winter Lady review for Alternative Matter

The Birds of Passage project is essentially the work of New Zealand based Alicia Merz, and the album “Winter Lady”, the latest release on Denovali Recordings. From the delicate opening waves of “Fatal Melody” the listener is transported to an ethereal playground, consisting of vocals which are of such aching fragility, and droplets of sound that are carefully tantalising and mournful. For the listener who is prepared to pay attention and afford this music the time and space it deserves, the rewards are plentiful, and the emotions cathartic.
“Highwaymen in Midnight Masks” continues to hold the listener in that space, and soothes their troubles aside with some of the most poetic and disarming lyrics that could be layered upon such a luscious soundscape. The production of the album is painstakingly attentive to the various elements that build this landscape and give the impression that the vocals are being gently whispered intimately into the ear of the listener. The “Hollow” track leaves this reviewer at least, with feelings of melancholy and elation in equal measure, a feat which takes considerable skill and courage to attain. The line between acoustic instrumentation and electronically produced sound is blurred, and goes some way to add another level to the music on the album. Far back in the mix one can occasionally make out the delicate piano lines, which help to ground these pieces into something organic in nature amongst the swathes of electronics.
It may be argued that the compositions that go to make up this release from Birds of Passage are of one level and intensity alone, with little in the way of deviation from that format. Such criticism is redundant however when describing the work as a whole and the atmosphere that is being striven for. “Winter Lady”, as a coherent piece of work, is beyond simply calming the listener and transporting them to a state of extreme relaxation it facilitates another level of perception for the listener to use as a tool to take away. As “Waltz While We Sleep” fades into the ether we are left exploring our own frames of reference.  Music of this level of intimacy and disclosure, to work effectively, requires a certain level of restraint and consideration. “Winter Lady” has restraint and contemplation running through its very soul and on that basis should be regarded as a benchmark for other artists exploring deliberation as a musical template.

Cathedral – Anniversary CD review for This Is Not A Scene

Cathedral - Anniversary

This live double CD set from Cathedral is at once a glorious celebration of a band who were not only inspirational, but who also virtually came to define what “doom” metal could and would be. Recorded at their final ever show in December 2010 at the Islington Academy in London, this document acts as a poignant full stop to a 21 year spanning career. The double CD package covers the two distinct sets that were performed on the night. The first set featured, in its entirety, the 1991 album “Forest of Equilibrium” with the original Cathedral line up which included Mark Griffiths, Adam Lehan and Mark Smail, whilst the second set comprised a retrospective of their career in general, and featured the long standing line up of Lee Dorian, Brian Dixon, Leo Smee and Garry Jennings. One could argue that the first set lacks the intensity of vocal delivery that helped characterize “Forest of Equilibrium”, but this appears insignificant when considering the time that has lapsed since that recording, and the changes in technique over the years that Cathedral have embraced.
The second set, which controversially for some maybe, begins with the more multifaceted “Funeral of Dreams” from the last Cathedral album “The Guessing Game”, finds this incarnation of the band at the top of their game in terms of comfort and attitude. Lee Dorian is obviously more at ease with the vocal style required of the material from this era of the band. On tracks such as “Midnight Mountain” the drums bounce along behind to lift the material to another level of joyous celebration. The only way to end a celebration of the life and times of Cathedral would be to perform an energetic and destructive version of the classic “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)” and this is just what happened on the night to the obvious delight to those present.....

Monday, 12 December 2011

Coalesce – Give Them Rope review for Alternative matter

This reissue of the 1997 debut from Coalesce features not only the original version of the album, but comes nicely packaged with the remastered version released in 2004. Lovers of elaborate time signatures, abrupt changes in tempo and hostile ear-splitting vocal will not be disappointed to hear this album again. The formula throughout the album may be a familiar one to the connoisseur of mathematically precise, multi-faceted rock, but the riffs and the vocals are certainly not tried and tested. Sean Ingram’s vocal takes no prisoners as it erupts over equally less compromising guitar, bass and drums. There is never a sense, however, that the album is awkward or stilted, and the tracks, despite their complex structure, flow effortlessly through the duration of the album.
 It could be argued that “Give Them Rope” lacks variety in dynamism, but to level such a criticism at an album with so much to say, and with such ferocity, would appear to miss the point. In reality the track “I Am Not the First”, for example, is an almost science fiction movie soundtrack of intangible noise which sits disturbingly in between the more familiar territory surrounding it. “This is the Last”, which then follows, descends chaotically into repetition which, to these ears in particular, is a powerful tool to mesmerise the listener into attention, and literally hammer the point home. Elsewhere there are moments, such as in “One on the Ground”, where the listener is carried along on a stream of jarring riffs and discordant progressions that can be disorientating and exhilarating in equal measure. For the listener who is prepared to explore a more thoughtful array of subgenres, “Give Them Rope” is a fine example of what can be unearthed with patience and an open mind.
The production on the original version of the album is, not surprisingly, less clinical, and somehow retains the raw edge that gives music of this calibre its advantage. That said, the remastered version, “Give Them Rope, She Said v 2.0”, allows the listener the opportunity to explore the technicality and skill employed to create an album which clearly has been part of the vanguard of intelligent, yet evocative rock. When one considers the album is nearly 15 years old now, one gets the opportunity to place it into context and appreciate how Coalesce have influenced countless others since.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Anal C**t - The Old Testament

From 1988 until the sad death of Seth Putnam in June 2011, Anal Cunt had been releasing an influential yet aggressive blend of abrasive and confrontational noise. Later albums began to see the band “mellow”, if that is the right word, into more recognisable song structures. “The Old Testament” is a collection of demos, live performances and split single tracks covering the bands career up until 1991, and the listener would be hard pressed to describe many of the tunes within this miscellany as recognisably songs. The opening track “1st Demo” is chaotic and apoplectic and one is reminded that there is possibly some structure to the pieces as there are a number of drum stick clicks to count the tracks in. “5643 Song EP” and “88 Song EP” although less chaotic, wreak havoc and show a band at the height of their uncompromising game....

Friday, 2 December 2011

Alternative Matter link

Formed in 2002, this is the third album release from Dutch band Nemesea, and opens with the title track, a whispering curiosity which leaves the listener, who may never have encountered the band previously, wondering where they will be led subsequently. Any curiosity is quickly swept away with the introduction of “Caught in the Middle”, a lush combination of symphonic keyboard and impassioned vocal, which being infectious in nature, has the perfect radio friendly essence. Lovers of the extravagant and flamboyant ballad will not be disappointed by “If You Could, “I Live” and “High Enough”, and devotees of the 80’s Casio beat will be enthralled to hear “Release Me”. Marcus Klavan and Mat Litwin from Bulletproof Messenger bring additional vocal and turntable skills to “It’s Over”, and help alter the course of the album away from more pedestrian melodic rock. The dual female vocal on “High Enough”, featuring Charlotte Wessels from Delain, assists in adding a further layer again to prevent the flow of the album descending into sugary insignificance.   The real surprise for the enduring listener is the final track “Allein”, however, with its menacing industrial Germanic feel courtesy of Heli Reissenweber of the Rammstein tribute band Stahlzeit, which, on hearing the piece, makes perfect sense. The title track and “2012” are the real leftfield additions to the album, with spoken word passages, digitally enhanced vocals, soundscapes of industrial noise providing a welcome reprieve to those who require a little more experimentation from their music......

Mr Bitterness and the Guilty Pleasures – Epic Flail review for Alternative Matter

If anyone would like to know where music of a certain era could have gone, in which dead pan vocal and purring machinery were admired, then “Epic Flail” is one opportunity. From the opening harsh, dissonant electronic throb of “Breaking Down” the listener is transported to a future dystopia, and the journey can be uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding. The arrangement of the song here is angular and the grating electronica, at first a distraction, blends into the piece with unnerving ease. “Days Months Years”, despite being more soothing to the ears, is layered with washes of sound that lift the song itself from being something less harmless, into something that broods and menaces. In places, such as on “Lost”, the production is distant and ethereal and lends the music an aura of loneliness and despair, which continues into “Voices from the Other Side”. One cannot help but be reminded of how many bands 30 years ago put the Manchester landscape to music in the UK. The two more abrasive tracks sandwich this EP, as “Thinking Machines” again, over desolate, synthesized vocals, conveys a hint of danger and suspicion. The five song collection that makes up “Epic Flail” hints at a time when purely electronic music was new and experimental, and pushes the boundaries further for a new century, in which this template is being used to experiment further still.